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Conflict Trends: A Global Overview, 1946–2019

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Palik, Júlia; Siri Aas Rustad & Fredrik Methi (2020) Conflict Trends: A Global Overview, 1946–2019, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

Executive Summary

State-based conflicts are at a historic high: In 2019, 54 state-based conflicts were recorded: two more than in 2018 and the same number as in 2016. This number is a record high since 1946. 35 countries experienced civil conflicts and worldwide around 50,000 died in battle-related deaths. The two deadliest conflicts were recorded in Afghanistan and Syria. Despite the fact that the Islamic State (IS) was allegedly defeated in Syria in 2019, the number of IS conflicts increased from 12 in 2018 to 16 in 2019. Internationalized civil conflicts killed more people than “regular” civil conflicts. This could either be due to internationalization increasing the intensity of conflicts, or the fact that more intense conflicts are more likely to become internationalized. State-based conflicts are concentrated in a set of conflict hotspots revolving around Syria, Iraq, and Yemen in the Middle East, in the border between Mali and Burkina Faso, Eastern DRC and Somalia in Africa, and Afghanistan and the Philippines in Asia. For many of the conflict countries in the world, the geographical spread of conflict is limited to certain geographical areas, such as the north-eastern part of Mozambique and the southern tip of Thailand. Conflicts in Africa and Asia experience a higher number of recurring conflicts than other regions, which shows that the underlying incompatibilities and grievances of conflict parties are yet to be resolved.

Ceasefires and peace agreements: Most ceasefires between 1989 and 2018 were concluded in Asia, followed by Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Since 2010, the number of humanitarian ceasefires has increased considerably. This is potentially an indicator of how severe recent conflicts have become. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of peace agreements declined, but the number of conflicts rose. One potential explanation for this decline is that this period saw the settlement of some long-standing conflicts, such as the conflict between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Non-state conflicts and related deaths are declining: In 2019 there were a total of 67 non-state conflicts in the world. This is a slight decrease from 2017 and 2018. The number of non-state conflicts has stabilized at a considerably higher level than we saw a decade ago. While Africa and the Middle East both feature high levels of non-state conflict, the Middle East is characterized by fighting between highly organized actors, while in Africa we see a higher number of communal conflicts. In total, almost 19,600 people were killed in non-state conflicts in 2019. This is a decrease from 2018, yet the number is still amongst the top three since 1989. Although the number of non-state conflicts in Latin America was less than in Africa and in the Middle East, Latin-America experiences the most violent non-state conflicts. This is related to the high level of violence between drug cartels in Mexico.

One-sided violence increased in Africa: Fewer groups are engaged in one-sided violence today compared to the mid-2000s. Similarly to the number of non-state conflicts, Africa has the highest incidents of one-sided violence, followed by Asia and the Middle East. Africa is the only region where we see an increase of groups perpetrating one-sided violence.